High dividend stocks – Analysis of AGNC income account> non-recurrent earnings> sale of marketable securities

Profits from Sale of Marketable Securities.

Most businesses do not sell marketable securities in the normal course of their business operations.  Profits realized by a business corporation from the sale of marketable securities are also of a special character and must be separated from the ordinary operating results (unless that corporation is an insurance company, bank, or investment-trust).  AGNC is a real estate investment trust so it buys and sells marketable securities in the normal course of it business operations.

The bottom line is to stay away from investing in financial securities (like AGNC) because their earning power is difficult to determine and their asset values can be very volatile.
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Reprint of the applicable section of the 1934 edition of Securities Analysis concerning the profit/loss from the sale of marketable securities:

Methods Used by Investment Trusts in Reporting Sale of Marketable Securities. Investment-trust statements raise special questions with respect to the treatment of profits or losses realized from the sale of securities and changes in security values. Prior to 1930 most of these companies reported profits from the sale of securities as part of their regular income, but they showed the appreciation on unsold securities in the form of a memorandum or footnote to the balance sheet. But when large losses were taken in 1930 and subsequently, they were shown in most cases not in the income account but as charges against capital, surplus, or reserves. The unrealized depreciation was still recorded by most companies in the form of an explanatory comment on the balance sheet, which continued to carry the securities owned at original cost. A minority of investment trusts reduced the carrying price of their portfolio to the market by means of charges against capital and surplus.

It may logically be contended that, since dealing in securities is an integral part of the investment-trust business, the results from sales and even the changes in portfolio values should be regarded as ordinary rather than extraordinary elements in the year’s report. Certainly a study confined to the interest and dividend receipts less expenses would prove of negligible value. If any useful results can be expected from an analysis of investment-trust exhibits, such analysis must clearly be based on the three items: investment income, profits or losses on the sale of securities and changes in market values. It is equally obvious that the gain or shrinkage, so computed, in any one year is no indication whatever of earning power in the recurrent sense. Nor can an average taken over several years have any significance for the future unless the results are first compared with some appropriate measure of general market performance. Assuming that an investment trust has done substantially better than the relevant “average,” this is of course a prima facie indication of capable management. But even here it would be difficult to distinguish confidently between superior ability and luckier guesses on the market.

The gist of this critique is twofold: (1) the over-all change in principal value is the only available measure of investment-trust performance, but (2) this measure cannot be regarded as an index of “normal earning power” in any sense analogous to the recorded earnings of a well-entrenched industrial business.

Similar Problem in the Case of Banks and Insurance Companies. A like problem is involved in analyzing the results shown by insurance companies and by banks. Public interest in insurance securities is concentrated largely upon the shares of fire insurance companies. These enterprises represent a combination of the insurance business and the investment trust business. They have available for investment their capital funds plus substantial amounts received as premiums paid in advance. Generally speaking, only a small portion of these funds is subject to legal restrictions as regards investment, and the balance is handled in much the same way as the resources of the investment trusts. The underwriting business as such has rarely proved highly profitable. Frequently it shows a deficit, which is offset, however, by interest and dividend income. The profits or losses shown on security operations, including changes in their market value, exert a predominant influence upon the public’s attitude toward fire-insurance-company stocks. The same has been true of bank stocks to a smaller, but none the less significant, degree. The tremendous over speculation in these issues during the late 1920’s was stimulated largely by the participation of the banks, directly or through affiliates, in the fabulous profits made in the securities markets.

Since 1933 banks have been required to divorce themselves from their affiliates, and their operations in securities other than government issues have been more carefully supervised and restricted. But in view of the large portion of their resources invested in bonds, substantial changes in bond prices are still likely to exert a pronounced effect upon their reported earnings.

The fact that the operations of financial institutions generally—such as investment trusts, banks and insurance companies—must necessarily reflect changes in security values makes their shares a dangerous medium for widespread public dealings. Since in these enterprises an increase in security values may be held to be part of the year’s profits, there is an inevitable tendency to regard the gains made in good times as part of the “earning power” and to value the shares accordingly. This results of course in an absurd overvaluation, to be followed by collapse and a correspondingly excessive depreciation. Such violent fluctuations are particularly harmful in the case of financial institutions because they may affect public confidence. It is true also that rampant speculation (called “investment”) in bank and insurance-company stocks leads to the ill-advised launching of new enterprises, to the unwise expansion of old ones and to a general relaxation of established standards of conservatism and even of probity.

The securities analyst, in discharging his function of investment counselor, should do his best to discourage the purchase of stocks of banking and insurance institutions by the ordinary small investor. Prior to the boom of the 1920’s such securities were owned almost exclusively by those having or commanding large financial experience and matured judgment. These qualities are needed to avoid the special danger of misjudging values in this field by reason of the dependence of their reported earnings upon fluctuations in security prices.

Herein lays also a paradoxical difficulty of the investment-trust movement. Given a proper technique of management, these organizations may well prove a logical vehicle for the placing of small investor’s funds. But considered as a marketable security dealt in by small investors, the investment-trust stock itself is a dangerously volatile instrument. Apparently this troublesome factor can be held in check only be educating or by effectively cautioning the general public on the interpretation of investment trust reports. The prospects of accomplishing this are none too bright.

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Published in: on August 26, 2010 at 10:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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